‘Our goal is to get back’: 2023 ALWS champs gear up for new season

‘Our goal is to get back’: 2023 ALWS champs gear up for new season

With 11 returning players from his 2023 American Legion World Series championship team, League City (Tex.) Post 554 coach Ronnie Oliver has high hopes for the 2024 season.

“We know to just get there two years in a row is tough,” Oliver said of his team that became Texas’ first ALWS champions last season. “We know we’ve got a big target on our back and we’ve got our work cut out for us to get back there again. But we’ve got some returning players who know what it takes to get there and what it takes to win, so our goal is to get back to the World Series.”

League City has a chance to join select company as they pursue a third straight ALWS appearance.

Only nine teams have reached the ALWS three or more consecutive years:

·       Billings, Mont. (1960-62);

·       Rio Piedras, P.R. (1972-74);

·       Cedar Rapids, Iowa (1974-76);

·       Santa Monica, Calif. (1976-78);

·       Boyertown, Pa. (1986-88);

·       Brooklawn, N.J. (1998-2001 and 2011-15);

·       Waipahu, Hawaii (2013-15);

·       Randolph County, N.C. (2017-19);

·       Idaho Falls, Idaho (2019, 2021, 2022; the 2020 ALWS was canceled due to the pandemic.)

“We’ve got some holes to fill but I’m optimistic about the ones coming back,” Oliver said. “If we fill some gaps, we’ll have a team to compete for it.”

Of the 11 returning players, five started in last year’s 1-0 championship game victory over Lincoln, Neb.: catcher Tyler Robinson, first baseman Brice Smith, third baseman Jackson Higgins, left fielder Erik Anchondo and designated hitter Scott Martinez.

Other returning players are Tyler Austin, Alec Beversdorf, Braden Castle, Alex Kudler, Logan Sanders and James Shuttlesworth. Higgins (.387 in national competition last season), Smith (.310) and Martinez (.280) are the top returning hitters and Austin, Beversdorf, Castle and Shuttlesworth all got starts in the ALWS with Austin, Beversdorf, Castle, Martinez and Smith logging innings on the mound. Higgins also was the 2023 ALWS all-tournament third baseman.

“Hopefully, some of these kids coming back that were backups will have maybe a year of college in them and will be improved,” Oliver said of his team. “I saw them at Christmas when we had a banquet and some of them have put on some muscle.

“I know we’ve got big holes to fill but they could fill some of them.”

George W. Rulon American Legion Baseball Player of the Year Jacob Cyr, the left-handed pitcher who threw two shutouts — including a no-hitter in the 2023 ALWS opener — is among the departed players. Also gone will be 2023 All-ALWS outfielder Kyeler Thompson, who scored the lone run in the title game.

Oliver knows he can’t control whether or not fortune shines favorably on his team this season.

“For me to watch what was going on last year was a blessing,” Oliver said. “It was something really great because I’ve had teams they were even better or equal who didn’t make the right plays at the right time and get the right hits at the right time.

“That team was special. They played the game the right way. And, you know, everything bounced our way from state to regionals and then the World Series. It just seemed that everything clicked.”

Among the perks of winning the ALWS is a trip to the Major League World Series. League City were special guests at Game 2 last October in Arlington, Texas.

For Oliver and his team, seeing the game was special but their off-field interactions may have meant more, including volunteering at a Play Ball clinic at the Texas Rangers Youth Academy.

“All the boys had a great time,” Oliver said. “I think they enjoyed the camp they got to work more than the actual game. They enjoyed the game, but they had a blast doing the camp.”

And for Oliver, he got to renew a longtime personal relationship as he’s known Diamondbacks’ bench coach Jeff Banister for more than 40 years.

“His dad (Bob) coached me (at La Marque, Tex., High School) and I know the whole family,” Oliver said. “So it’s pretty cool to see somebody from your high school sitting on the bench in the World Series.”


American Legion Baseball

American Legion Baseball

American Legion Baseball enjoys a reputation as one of the most successful and tradition-rich amateur athletic leagues. Today, the program registers more than 5,400 teams in all 50 states, including Canada and Puerto Rico.

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